Dear Media: Meet the First African Pope!


With the imminent election of a new pope, we are sure to hear a lot of talk from liberal media personalities that the Catholic Church should elect “the first African pope.”

Well, good news! We already did.

St. Victor I, Pope and Martyr was born in what is now Libya and was elected pope in the year 189 AD. Later, Pope Saint Miltiades was elected pope in 311 and Pope Saint Gelasius was elected in 492. Some of the better news sources make a point to note that we have had African popes before, but this distinction is just as often dropped.

The same thing has happened with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Even as recently as a few weeks ago CBS’s 60 Minutes ran a story which described her as “the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice,” except that Justice Benjamin Cardozo was of Portuguese heritage and was appointed to the court the better part of a century ago. It’s always more sensational to describe someone as the first ever instead of just the first in living memory, or the first in a long time–especially when it comes to liberal or racial politics, and even the first-rate operations easily fall into this trap.

The truth is, the Catholic Church has been around for almost 2,000 years and in that time we have seen pretty much everything. Popes have come from different continents and nations and have had to lead the Church through difficult times before. Today is no different. For moderns who are constantly looking for the novel and the unprecedented, look elsewhere. The Church is merely an instrument of God’s eternal and unchanging will. Even though the cardinals vote, it’s not a very democratic process as there is no politicking allowed. The papacy is not a popularity contest!

Furthermore, in speculating about the next pontiff, we would do well to remember the old saying that “he who enters the conclave as a pope leaves it as a cardinal.” Even though the Holy Spirit always seems to surprise us, it is because of our own failings, not because God has changed His mind. If the Papal Conclave in its wisdom decides to elect a pope from Africa or Asia, then great! If they elect a pope from Europe or the Americas, well that’s great too. All that matters is that the pope is a true servant of Christ and a faithful shepherd of His Church.


Joshua Bowman (@prolixpatriot) joined in full communion with the Catholic Church in 2010 after many years in the spiritual wilderness. He recently moved from his beloved native Virginia to Columbus, Ohio with his growing family and writes on religion, politics, history, and geographical curiosities in these pages and on his personal blog, The Prolix Patriot.



  • Robyn Conder Broyles

    Those first African popes don’t count. You’re not a REAL African pope unless you’re black, and you’re not a REAL Hispanic justice unless you’re brown.

  • Anonymous

    In my experience, both conservative and liberal media make mistakes in accuracy from time to time, and it annoys me when the entire purpose of an article from one side is to prove the other side wrong about a tiny insignificant fact that they got wrong. The irony being that in this case, an article was written to criticize the liberal media for something they haven’t even done (see the comments about the accepted definitions of the word “Hispanic” below; in the US, it generally means just people of Latin American origin living in the US and excludes persons of Spanish and Portuguese origin).

    • PalaceGuard

      And, for that matter, why should the phrase “Latin Origin” exclude those of French ancestry?

  • Anonymous

    Interesting Church history, but regarding the Supreme Court, Portuguese people are not considered to be Hispanic; therefore, that liberal media outlet was probably being very accurate and was not forgetting or neglecting history. I would rather this article have been solely about Church history and not have tried to attack a group for something they haven’t even done.

    • Manuel L. Quezon

      Look for the meaning of HISPANIC…..its about spain and portugal..

      • Sean Ahern

        Actually, Anonymous is correct.

        Of or relating to Spain or to Spanish-speaking countries, esp. those of Latin America.

      • Anonymous

        “of, relating to, or being a person of Latin American descent living in the United States; especially : one of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican origin”

        In general, in the US, “Hispanic” refers to Latin American individuals. The definition of “Hispanic” above taken from seems to be the one meant by that particular media outlet. No inaccuracy there.

      • Anonymous

        I do see that my wording previously was off, however, and have altered my previous statement accordingly.

    • Nancy Janzen

      Well since when did Portugal move off the Iberian peninsula.

  • Carlos

    Portuguese = Hispanic? I don’t think so…

  • Kevin Gleeson

    I suppose a distinction can be made that the African popes were probably not of the black race, and that the first of these has yet to be elected.

    • Sean Ahern

      Agreed. Speculation about an “African” pope will likely mean that people are wondering about the prospects of the first black pope.

  • Mark Sarich

    There were no popes until the Great Schism in 1054. These are all Bishops of Rome within the context of Orthodoxy which has enjoyed many African Bishops over the years. Be clear on the fact that “Pope Leo” was in fact excommunicated from the Orthodox Church. As the Roman Church approached numerous doctrinal changes it increasingly claimed the Rome was “superior inter contemporens” (superior among equals, a notion that seems to come from “Animal Farm”!) As this happens the chauvinism of the city of Rome itself as the “rock upon which the church is built” precludes the inclusion of Africans; an ethnocentricity which I contend persists to this day through the domination by European prelates.

    • Manuel L. Quezon

      Really now….THATS A COMPLETE DISTORTION OF HISTORY…The catholic church can trace its lineage through Jesus Christ…Peter, Linus, Anacletus, Clement, evaristus…Those were the first five….If you wanna rewrite history and unfold your falsehood, its your right…..BUT YOU CAN ONLY ADVERTIZE YOUR IGNORANCE AND HATRED FOR THE AUTHENTIC CHURCH JESUS HAD ESTABLISHED…

      • Catriona M Mac Kirnan

        It would seem to be ignorant to accuse a presumably faithful Orthodox Christian of hatred for the Church Jesus founded. This is not a hostile non-Christian you are dealing with.

    • Catriona M Mac Kirnan

      I have a friend who is an Orthodox priest. I am told by him and by other sources that the Eastern churches (later called Orthodox) recognized the superior authority of the Bishop of Rome in the early centuries, because he was understood to speak with the authority given to Peter. As matters approached closer to the Schism of 1054, the authority of the Bishop of Rome to communicate authoritatively with the Eastern churches was rejected, because it was seen as having political overtones (from what I have read, this was true — there were all sorts of political overtones which should not have been there). The problems resulting from this are still being addressed.

      Meanwhile, the affectionate title of Pope, simply deriving from a word for father, came into common use and was applied to the Bishop of Rome by bishops and patriarchs from across the entire Church, long before 1054.
      And, as you correctly point out, any Catholic or Orthodox diocese or area of patriarchal responsibility which is based on the African continent has of course has African bishops, but there has been no other Bishop of Rome (which is the position at issue) from the African continent other than Victor, mentioned in the article, who was elected Bishop of Rome and thus recognized as a successor of Peter by both Eastern and Western churches in A.D. 189.

    • Robyn Conder Broyles

      That’s an inflammatory statement that has nothing to do with whether some of these “bishops of Rome” were from Africa or not. Go home, trolls.

    • Dan Hydar

      “Be clear on the fact that “Pope Leo” was in fact excommunicated from the Orthodox Church.”

      Also, the Lutheran Church, the Anglican Church, the First Baptist Church of Monkeys Butt Montana, ….

    • MarylandBill

      How could Pope Leo have been excommunicated? He was already dead at the time.

      The Orthodox originally recognized the Bishop of Rome as being the first among the 5 Patriarchs of the primal sees, even to the extend that he had a role in mediating disputes amongst the other Patriarchs. Their beef was that he was claiming to be more than first among equals.

      In any case, this has less than nothing to do with this article.



Receive our updates via email.